By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
The Browns were busy reshaping a chunk of their roster Sunday, but they’re still searching for a kicker who they’ll use against the Miami Dolphins in the regular-season opener Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The organization announced it claimed the following six players off waivers: running backs Bobby Rainey from the Baltimore Ravens and Dennis Johnson from the Houston Texans, tight ends MarQueis Gray from the San Francisco 49ers and Keavon Milton from the New Orleans Saints, inside linebacker Brandon Magee from the Dallas Cowboys and center/guard Patrick Lewis from the Green Bay Packers.
The Browns also terminated the contracts of two veterans, running back Brandon Jackson and tight end Kellen Davis, and waived fullback/tight end Brad Smelley, a seventh-round pick in last year’s draft, inside linebacker L.J. Fort, center Jarrod Shaw and undrafted rookie guard Caylin Hauptmann.
Rainey is the only player from the group of new players who is not an undrafted rookie, and he’s also the headliner because of his stellar preseason performances. The Browns now have nine undrafted rookies, accounting for 17 percent of the 53-man roster.
“Our roster is fluid right now,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said in a news release. “We still need to address our kicker position, so we’re not done. We’re a young and hungry team with some solid veteran leaders. I like the foundation we have in place as we enter the season. I’m excited to see what we can do.”
The Browns don’t have a kicker on their active roster after terminating the contract of veteran Shayne Graham and placing undrafted rookie Brandon Bogotay on the waived/injured list last week with a strained groin. Bogotay went unclaimed, so he officially moved to the Browns’ season-ending injured reserve Sunday.
The Browns plan to hold a kicking tryout, probably on Tuesday, and sign someone in the next few days. Chudzinski conceded the team’s decision makers haven’t been satisfied so far in their quest to replace Pro Bowler Phil Dawson, who signed a one-year $2.25 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers in March after the new regime let him walk in free agency.
Below is a breakdown of the team’s most recent moves.
The running backs
After missing most of his rookie season with a knee injury, the 5-foot-8, 212-pound Rainey finished the preseason with 23 carries for 89 yards (3.9 average) and two touchdowns to go along with three catches for 17 yards. Rainey, 25, entered the NFL last year as an undrafted free agent from Western Kentucky University.
ProFootballFocus.com gave Rainey the highest grade of all the recently cut running backs. He forced 11 missed tackles on 26 preseason touches, according to the website.
But the Ravens considered Rainey expendable partly because they have running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce and fullbacks Vonta Leach and Kyle Juszczyk.
The 5-7, 193-pound Johnson, who returned three kickoffs for touchdowns during his career at the University of Arkansas, finished the preseason with 33 carries for 129 yards (3.9 average) and a touchdown to go along with five catches for 31 yards. He also lost two fumbles. The Texans waived Johnson, 23, Friday.
The Browns’ running backs corps was decimated by injuries in the preseason. Backups Montario Hardesty (arthroscopic knee surgery) and Dion Lewis (surgically repaired fractured fibula) are both on season-ending injured reserve.
Even with Jackson’s departure, the team now has more reinforcements for starter Trent Richardson because it added Rainey and Johnson. Chris Ogbonnaya, who’s listed as the Browns’ top fullback, is also in the picture at tailback, a position he has played throughout his NFL career.
“I like the depth we’ve been able to add at running back,” Chudzinski said. “Both Johnson and Rainey have been productive runners. They also give us some options as a kickoff returner. We’ll look at that in the next few days.”
After spending his first four NFL seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Jackson signed with the Browns in 2011 but sat out the entire season after suffering torn ligaments in a big toe. Last season, he became a forgotten man and was seldom used by ex-Browns coach Pat Shurmur and his staff.
In May, the new regime re-signed Jackson, 27, to a one-year contract. But in the preseason, Jackson had 28 carries for only 43 yards (1.5 average). He added nine catches for 73 yards and a touchdown.
The tight ends
The 6-4, 250-pound Gray played quarterback and wide receiver for the University of Minnesota, but he has been trying to make it as a tight end in the NFL. Gray, 23, caught one pass for 13 yards in the preseason, and the 49ers waived him Saturday.
The 6-4, 293-pound Milton played tight end for the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Milton, 23, tallied one catch for 10 yards in the preseason, and the Saints waived him Saturday.
“Gray has experience as a quarterback and wide receiver, so he’s a heck of an athlete,” Chudzinski said. “Milton gives us a guy with good blocking ability and hands.”
Gray and Milton will serve as the backups to starter Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge, the second tight end on the depth chart. Cameron and Barnidge have been dealing with groin and shoulder injuries, respectively.
Davis, who spent the past five seasons with the Chicago Bears and was a full-time starter the past two, signed a one-year deal with the Browns in March, but they let him go after a disappointing preseason. Davis, 27, was set to make a base salary of $715,000 this year. The deal included $165,000 in guaranteed money, Adam Caplan of SiriusXM NFL radio reported.
Smelley, 24, played fullback in the preseason finale Thursday against the Bears, but he spent most of training camp at tight end. Smelley, who appeared in two games last season as a rookie, is practice-squad eligible.
The Cowboys gave Magee, an inside linebacker, $70,000 in guaranteed money when they signed him in April as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona State University, according to reports. That’s more than any seventh-round draft pick received last year, the Dallas Morning News reported.
But the 5-11, 224-pound Magee, 22, missed the last two preseason games with a concussion he suffered Aug. 19 during practice. He compiled 16 tackles in the team’s first three exhibition games.
Fort, 23, joined the Browns as an undrafted free agent last year. He played in all 16 games, starting once and compiling 13 tackles, including a sack, and seven stops on special teams.
“Magee is just a tough, old-school linebacker with good instincts,” Chudzinski said. “I believe he can help us.”
The 6-1, 311-pound Lewis started at guard for Texas A&M University during his first two collegiate seasons. Lewis, 22, then switched to center as a junior and earned All-Big 12 honorable-mention accolades.
“Lewis can play both guard and center,” Chudzinski said. “So I like the versatility there on the interior of our offensive line.”
Veteran backup right tackle Oniel Cousins is favored to start at right guard when the Browns face the Miami Dolphins, Chudzinski said. Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston were battling for the starting right guard job this summer, but both of them suffered high ankle sprains and will miss the early stages of the regular season.
University of Mount Union product Jasper Collins, an undrafted rookie wide receiver, will join the Browns’ eight-man practice squad, his agent, Kelli Masters, announced Sunday via Twitter. … The following players were waived by the Browns and then claimed by other teams Sunday: linebacker James-Michael Johnson (Kansas City Chiefs), defensive lineman Brian Sanford (Oakland Raiders) and undrafted rookie center Braxston Cave (New England Patriots).
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.